This point cropped up for me again when, prompted by my good friend Douglas Pressman, I looked at a recent piece from Forbes magazine titled “Watching The Wheels Come Off The Green Machine.” This op-ed by one Bill Frezza, a self-described “free market advocate,” conveys news of the less-than-underwhelming results of the ongoing efforts to peddle “electric” cars. Much of what Frezza reports will be unsurprising to DbC readers:
Few seemed to notice last week when the electric vehicle maker A123 Systems—poster child for successful clean tech investing—“temporarily” laid off 125 workers at its flagship manufacturing plants in Michigan on the eve of the Thanksgiving media break. It also reduced its earnings guidance for 2011 by $45 million, because its anchor customer, Fisker Automotive, “unexpectedly” delayed the production ramp-up for its Karma luxury electric car—again.
Environmentally correct planners put all this public money to work to relieve the technology bottleneck they believed held back our transition to electric cars. So they invested my money and yours into building the largest lithium ion automotive battery plant in North America—to supply a Finnish electric car manufacturer backed by Al Gore’s venture capital fund and which received $529 million in federal loan guarantees. That Finnish manufacturer was supposed to begin production in 2009, but to date has only shipped 40 cars into the U.S. Those cars were delivered to a handful of millionaires and billionaires like Leonardo DeCaprio and Ray Lane who received tax credits because they bought an electric car.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Now, DbC considers it a high priority to spread such news. Every time a potential realist gets snookered into advocating electric cars instead of directing attention to social power and the need for radical transportation reform and conservation efforts, the human race takes another step toward Carmageddon.
But, as we work to peel off as many people as we can from the prevailing supply-side campaigns, it is important to remember that this effort in no way makes us allies with those who call themselves conservatives.
Take a look at Mr. Frezza’s essay, and you’ll see why: Frezza, like all conservatives, refuses to recognize that, foolish and corrupt as it is, the push for green cars is an attempt to rescue cars-first transportation from its own fatal flaws. Could we really, seriously conclude that the existing transportation arrangement in the United States is even imaginably sustainable for more than another few decades? If anybody can tell me how that could happen, please write in.
Meanwhile, not only does Frezza refuse to contemplate that little question, he also — again, like all conservatives — pushes the idea that existing reality is somehow a result of the reign of pure free choice. Frezza treats the green car push as proof of the inherent stupidity of “central planning.” He implies that the existing U.S. automotive fleet is full of “car[s] that customers actually want.”
Of course, the actual history of transportation choice in America is rather different from what Frezza alleges it to have been. From the moment the car was perfected as an object of assembly line manufacture, the corporate capitalist overclass was beyond smitten. Addicted, in fact, is the proper descriptor of their bond with the automobile. In actual history, once the car became a viable corporate product, all hope for genuine transportation choice — how many people would nowadays choose to own no car at all, if we’d built our cities to make that choice convenient? — was up in smoke. In reality, GM is now 100 years old, and so, with the arms of government fully subordinate all along the way, is transportation dictatorship in the United States.
“Drive on!,” say the “conservatives.”
They Might be Giants is a pop music group who fancy themselves intellectuals and teachers of children. Here is one of their supposedly smart and educational offerings:
Excuse me, but this is (tuneless) ignorance on very creepy stilts.
The lyrics, amid a string of familiar phony green pablum, include the line “no diesel, steam, or gasoline.”
Okay, TMBG, tell us: Where does the “electric” car gets its electricity? Is it magic? Spontaneous generation? Something, as TMBG would apparently have the kiddies conclude, “verdant green”?
Nope, not even close. It’s 90 percent from nuclear fission and the combustion of coal and natural gas.
Meanwhile, what’s the title of the album from which this amazing piece of brainwashed brainwashing emanates? Here Comes Science. ROFL.
In the first six months of 2011, in the United States, “Nissan sold 3,875 Leafs while GM sold 2,745 Volts.” Hence, if we suspend logic and accept that these figures are not exaggerations like virtually everything else claimed about these machines, there are now 6,620 Leafs and Volts among the 246,000,000 cars and trucks currently operating on U.S. roads.
So, to do the math: At this rate, it would take 186 years for so-called “electric” cars to reach the status of being one percent of the present U.S. automotive fleet.
Meanwhile, Nissan has just announced — wait for it — a $2,420 price increase on the cheapest version of next year’s Leaf.
Finally, this is not exactly the newest news, but check out this prediction of dangerous (and presumably catastrophically expensive) collision-induced intrusions into “EV” battery packs.
All this supports DbC’s thesis that the “electric car” is a mere placeholder promulgated to trick people, not excluding the hordes of phony greens who continue to swallow the bait, into giving corporate capitalists another decade or two to finish sucking all the wealth they can out of human history’s greatest infrastructural boondoggle, the cars-first transportation system of the United States.
Those public charging stations — the plug-in infrastructure that will help wary consumers overcome the dreaded “range anxiety”?
Well, good luck finding one.
Ecotality, the San Francisco company awarded $130 million by the U.S. Department of Energy to build the network of public charging stations, was supposed to have 1,100 installed in Oregon by the end of next month. But as of last week it has yet to install a single public station in Oregon.
Not one. [Source]
Meanwhile, the promo “electric” cars delivered to the Oregon Department of Transportation, as a means of spurring the whole boondoggle along? How great are those? Not so great, as reported by ODOT’s own lead agent in the area:
Yesterday was the longest voyage for ODOT’s new Nissan LEAF since it was delivered two weeks ago. The occasion was a meeting at the Flanders building in Portland with the planning managers of Regions 1 and 2 to talk about the TIGER 2 grant for installing DC fast charge stations in NW Oregon.
ODOT fleet asked that we stop at the Nissan dealership in Wilsonville to have a software update installed in the LEAF, and that along with the round trip from Salem to Portland seemed eminently doable since there was a brand new 240V, Level 2 charging station installed at Flanders last week.
Region 2 Planning Manager Lisa Nell, Richard Beck from Environmental services and me left the motor pool with the LEAF telling us we had a range of 105 miles – no problem. We drove up the freeway with cruise control set at the speed limit and arrived at Flanders with the LEAF telling us we had a range of 35 miles. What? We traveled 45 miles and the car depleted 70% of its battery?
While in Portland and down to 30% power, the ODOT crew received not one but two more charges, with these results:
We have a great meeting about the TIGER project for an hour and a half, then went out to check out the LEAF. It’s been plugged in all this time so there should be plenty of juice for the return trip, right? Huh, we turn it on and it tells us we now have a range of 56 miles. In an hour and a half we’ve gained 21 miles…
Remembering that we said we’d stop be the dealership we pull off at the N. Wilsonville exit and they’re expecting us. While they’re installing the new software, the service manager tells me they’ll give us a little charge with their newly installed Level 2 chargers, which turned out to be a very little charge because it didn’t register on our range meter.
We’re off and running now in “ECO” mode (to conserve electrons) with the heater off (ditto) and just south of Woodburn we hit a hailstorm (oh, no – we have to turn on the windshield wipers – OK – slow intermittent only). Approaching Keizer we now have about 9 miles left. Lisa uses her GPS and determines we have only 6 miles to go – should be OK, but just in case she calls fleet – voicemail – then zero’s out – voicemail again. She calls Maintenance – voicemail again.
Meanwhile, Richard is taking an inventory of provisions on-board (apple, energy bar, leftover pizza) and I’m having visions of the photo of 3 ODOT employees stranded along I-5 in a prominently marked EV that run out of juice on the front page of the paper…
We finally pull in to the brand new charging station where the LEAF resides with the range meter reading 2 miles…
“(EVs) won’t work for most people,” O’Donnell said. “For at least 90 percent and maybe more of the population, (an EV) won’t work (at the current battery range).”
By “(EVs),” the DN, of course, means “electric vehicles.” We DbC folks are wise to that trick, though, aren’t we? No automobile is going to be making its own electricity in the foreseeable, not to say imaginable, future. So, the things we’re being conditioned to call “electric cars” are really nuclear or coal cars, with all the attending (hidden) implications of that reality.
And, what O’Donnell is admitting is that coal/nuke cars are pretty self-defeating, if you face any long, suburban commutes.
That, of course, won’t stop BMW from selling the things, undoubtedly at a loss. But such is the state of the industry these days. Every brand has to do its part to sustain the overall fiction that some invention is eventually going to render cars-first transportation sustainable.
Alas, doing that would require a major revision in the laws of thermodynamics, which dictate that making and moving ton-plus machines will always demand a great deal of energy, regardless of the source. All the loss leaders in the universe are not going to accomplish that feat. Car = pipe-dream.
In the future, motorists will no longer need a cable to recharge the batteries of their electric cars, thanks to a development project for inductive charging. Developed in cooperation with BMW, this non-contact technology also works if drivers only make a short stop to recharge. The associated charging stations can be easily incorporated into practically any setting, making them nearly invisible and effectively protecting them against vandalism and wear and tear. In June 2011, the system’s capabilities will be tested in a project funded by the German Environment Ministry and involving several vehicles in Berlin.
Do you think maybe Siemens doth protest too much with its preemptive assurances about the practicality of the devices? And can you imagine how expensive it would be to go out a rebuild public automotive streets to feature these literally shocking boondoggles?
At that point, we might as well start doing what we ought to be doing — radically reconstructing our towns to facilitate walking, bicycling, and public transportation.
The day before that whopper, one Jonah Lehrer wrote this:
[E]very innovation eventually leads to new shortages. We clear-cut forests, and so we turn to oil; once we exhaust our fossil-fuel reserves, we’ll start driving electric cars, at least until we run out of lithium.
Yes, sure, Jonah and Jonah’s editors, that’s exactly how electric cars work: The lithium in their batteries does what petroleum does in regular cars. Vroom, vroom!
On Easter Island, as the rats they brought with them and came to rely on as a supplementary food source ate up the seeds of the big palm trees they needed to make seaworthy long-distance fishing/travel/escape canoes, what did the Rapanui people do? Under the sway of their priestly overclass, who naturally insisted that bigger and better appeals to the gods (and, of course, further expansion of the practices and prerogatives of their Earthly messengers) was the only reasonable answer to any and all crises, they made more and bigger moai.
In the United States of America and the rest of the “advanced” corporate capitalist nation-states, as the ornate and allegedly magical “self-movers” they bought to achieve mobility started to burn away the second half of the planet’s petroleum supply, the great entrepreneurs insisted that the path to survival and renewal was building further, still-more-intricate-and-expensive implementations of these 3,000-plus-pound objects, by means of which each micro-pod of commoners fetched food, got to workplaces, and attended what remained of in-person social occasions (all, of course, while further glorifying and enriching the entrepreneurial class that pushed and provided the “freedom machines”).
To modify Sesame Street, one of these things is just like the other.
I often lambaste “electric” cars in this space. My aim in doing that, however, is not to lend aid and comfort to petro cars, which are, in their actually existing form, even worse than “electrics” and hybrids, from an energy-use perspective. I am against “electric” cars because they are halo-ware, a carefully planned distraction from the only kind of reform that stands a chance of bringing transportation systems into line with the requirements of energy and ecological sustainability. Converting to “electric” cars is something that directly competes with radical reconstruction of towns and cities to favor walking, bicycling, and public transit.
Yet, as a kind email commenter on my recent re-post at CounterPunch pointed out to me, it certainly isn’t enough to observe that the energy efficiency of “electric” cars is vastly exaggerated. The same is also increasingly true for petro cars.
The reason for that is the same as the reason I discussed yesterday in relation to “electric” cars: Assessing vehicle efficiency from the point of charging or filling excludes the huge energy expenditures it takes to deliver the charge or the fuel to the plug or the tank.
In the case of the “electric” car, the amount of energy (in the form of coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind turbines, or solar panels) it takes to produce an electrical charge for the car’s engine is significantly larger than the energy embodied in the delivered charge.
But just as (contrary to the childish suggestions of corporate marketing on the topic) electricity is not magic, neither is petroleum. Just as it costs energy to get electricity for “electric” cars, so does it costs energy to discover, drill, process, store, and deliver every gallon of gas pumped into an automotive tank.
In the past, the EROEI for petroleum was extremely high. Over time, as the easy and obvious reserves have declined, it has taken much more energy to discover and drill for petroleum. As a result, oil’s EROEI has plummeted and will undoubtedly continue to decline into the future.
As this happens, it becomes increasingly misleading to use MPG as the basis for evaluating the efficiency of petro-powered cars.
If we had an actual (rather than merely a nominal) green movement in this country, it would be pushing for a universal dust-to-dust standard for comparing the energy-use rate of various form of transportation machinery, including all cars, whatever their engine type.
That, of course, would be purest anathema to the corporate capitalist overclass, which is institutionally and psychologically addicted to perpetuating cars-first transportation right up and into Carmageddon’s awful dawn. Ergo, it is squarely off-the-table, even among the greens. They prefer gestures and pathetic photo-ops and going along to feel like they’re getting along.
“If you connect about 10 per cent of the homes on any given street with an electric car, the electricity system fails,” Anthony Haines told an audience at Ryerson University Wednesday. “It basically can’t handle that load.”
Plugging in a car battery to charge it up draws about triple the amount of power used by a typical home during the daytime, he said. Compounding the problem, most people will want to plug in their cars after work in the early evening, which is just when household demand for power hits its peak.
“You connect this huge load on the grid, and the grid simply won’t handle that type of load,” said Haines. “We need some innovative solutions.”
Clearly, shifting car-charging time into lower-use periods is among them, but someone has to figure out just how to go about it.
If this is the case in Canada, it’s got to be much worse in the United States.
Bottom line: The electrical infrastructure for widespread electric car ownership does not exist.
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!